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Journal Articles (Review Article) Environmental Evidence Year : 2023

Existing evidence on the effects of photovoltaic panels on biodiversity: a systematic map with critical appraisal of study validity

Abstract

Background: To phase out fossil fuels and reach a carbon–neutral future, solar energy and notably photovoltaic (PV) installations are being rapidly scaled up. Unlike other types of renewable energies such as wind and hydroelectricity, evidence on the effects of PV installations on biodiversity has been building up only fairly recently and suggests that they may directly impact ecosystems and species through, for instance, habitat change and loss, mortality, behaviour alteration or population displacements. Hence, we conducted a systematic map of existing evidence aiming at answering the following question: what evidence exists regarding the effects of PV installations on wild terrestrial and semi-aquatic species? Methods: We searched for relevant citations on four online publication databases, on Google Scholar, on four specialised websites and through a call for grey literature. Citations were then screened for eligibility in order to only retain citations referring to wild terrestrial and semi-aquatic species as well as PV and solar thermal installations, therefore excluding concentrated solar power. Accepted articles were first split into studies (corresponding to one experimental design) subjected to critical appraisal and then further split into observations (i.e. one population and one outcome) during metadata extraction. The current state of the literature was characterised and knowledge clusters and gaps identified. Review findings: Searching captured 8121 unique citations, which resulted in 158 relevant articles being accepted after screening. Even though the first article was published in 2005, the publication rate increased rapidly in 2020. The 97 included primary research and modelling articles were split into 137 unique studies and rated with either a low (43.8%), a high (41.6%) or an unclear overall risk of bias (14.6%) after internal validity assessment. Studies were further split into 434 observations, mainly carried out in the United States (23.0%) and the United Kingdom (21.0%), preferentially in temperate climates (64.5%). Plants and arthropods were the two most studied taxa (41.7% and 26.3%, respectively). Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities were most often investigated (70.1%). Observations mainly focused on the effect of the presence of PV installations (51.8%). Species abundance, community composition and species diversity were the most common outcomes assessed (23.0%, 18.4% and 16.1%, respectively). Conclusions: Three knowledge clusters for which a systematic review should be contemplated were identified: (i) the effects of PV installations on plant and (ii) arthropod communities and, (iii) their effects at a larger ecosystem scale on overall species abundance. However, the currently available evidence regarding the effects of photovoltaic installations on biodiversity is still scarce. More research is urgently needed on non-flying mammals and bats as well as amphibians and reptiles. Solar thermal panels and floating PV installations should also be further investigated. Studies comparing different designs of PV installations, management practices or contexts should be conducted as well. Indeed, more evidence is still needed to allow decision-makers to accurately and reliably select the types of PV installations and management practices that are least damaging to biodiversity.
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Dates and versions

hal-04296312 , version 1 (22-11-2023)

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Alix Lafitte, Romain Sordello, Dakis-Yaoba Ouédraogo, Chloé Thierry, Geoffroy Marx, et al.. Existing evidence on the effects of photovoltaic panels on biodiversity: a systematic map with critical appraisal of study validity. Environmental Evidence, 2023, 12 (1), pp.25. ⟨10.1186/s13750-023-00318-x⟩. ⟨hal-04296312⟩
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